Hey Nonny, It’s Raining. Good Morning Rain, Early Morning Rain and Leaving On A Jet Plane. Tolerable Folk Music, part 6.

Periodically, I get fixated onto one record. I’m not the only one, I appreciate that; even in my house, my wife does the same thing. During the first – and best – lockdown in 2020, she couldn’t get enough of Oh, Sweet Nothing, from The Velvet Underground‘s Loaded album. The previous winter, I’d been obsessed with John the Baptist by John & Beverley Martin.

There is a difference though because I understand that to repeatedly play the same record over and over while listening slakes my ears’ thirst; if you’re not fixated on it, it’s annoying. So I do it on headphones, and she does it either on the speaker on her phone or through the Alexa speaker in the kitchen, which she sings along to at high volume, generally with the wrong words, despite having listened to it twenty times that day.

In a way, I’m a bit envious of her response to it because she’s so utterly unselfconscious about it. It’s more a feeling for her. It’s not about anything that she’d like to butcher and dissect, lyrically – which she could if she wanted to – or musically – which she’d find difficult, beyond liking “that bit“, or the “the guitar there“. She doesn’t want to because she’s more primal than I am, I suppose and, as I said, I sort of envy that a bit because I can’t really do that.

Anyway, what I do is this, which is, basically, killing the goose that laid the golden egg, isn’t it? I often don’t like whatever it is I’ve gone overboard with by the time I’ve been overboard with it. The last one was Beach Baby, by First Class, and I ruined that one for myself again, so it’s probably best to warn you that, by the time I’m finished, I’ll have poked holes in it and found things I don’t like about it by the time I’ve looked closer.

I know what the answer is: the answer is don’t do that. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Sing along with it. Dance to it. Immerse yourself in it. And I do – but I want to know how it works. I play the guitar, and I like to work out how to play whatever it is – and sing along to it. And that means you have to look under the bonnet, so to speak, a bit.

In a way, I think that’s something that’s not really discussed much these days – maybe it never was – the different way that musicians hear music to the way non-musicians do. I started playing the guitar relatively late, and I found it difficult separating instruments in records. I didn’t really know what a bass guitar did or sounded like until I started playing, really.

What that means is that I listened like most people do until I was about 20, and then gradually listened to it more analytically.

That’s how it goes, isn’t it? People talk about strengths and weaknesses, but I’m coming around to the conclusion that it’s not really about that because it’s about how people respond to their environment, and the relatively consistent ways that individuals do that, and how there are upsides and downsides to doing it that way. The thing that is the strength is simultaneously the weakness, isn’t it?

I’ve also realised that, because I don’t plan anything in advance of writing, I think of something – in this case Bonnie Dobson’s Good Morning Rain – get obsessed with it, listen to it constantly, learn how to play it, start thinking about the lyrical content, themes, how it hangs together. Clever instrumentation or arrangements. Unusual words in the lyrics. Drum fills. Bass turnarounds. Guitar sounds. All that. And then I write it down, which helps me put it together, and then I listen to it for a bit more, and then I don’t listen to it again for ages.

Bonnie Dobson – Good Morning Rain.

I don’t know anything about Bonnie Dobson, or I didn’t. She’s Canadian and 83 this year: 2023: she’s about a month and a half older than my dad. He hasn’t heard Bonnie Dobson yet, but he’ll like her.

He’ll like her voice, which is nearly too perfect, a bit like Shirley Collins’. It’s pure and unfaltering, which could come across as also a bit cold, but Bonnie Dobson’s not cold in her delivery, quite the opposite in fact.

Good Morning Rain‘s a melancholy song, and when I say melancholy, I mean the way that I interpret melancholy which is when things are a bit shit, but you quite enjoy it. You know when it’s late autumn and it’s pissing down and cold outside, and getting dark about 4 o’ clock, and it’s Sunday, and you’ve got a cup of tea, and there’s nothing on telly, so you just sit and watch the rain lashing your windows, sighing? But you quite enjoy it at the same time. Not revelling in it, or even being particularly serious about it, but I find that quite a pleasant, familiar feeling.

I got sidetracked there, but the point is that Good Morning Rain‘s pretty much that: it’s about waking up to rain, and the image of the rain is used in a way that I quite enjoyed.

She personifies the rain from the off, but in such a way that it’s implicit that this conversation that the narrator’s having with the Rain, is ongoing, and has been for some time. And, not only that, her tone suggests to me that, in a way, she’s sort of in love with it, despite her complaints. A sad – in the genuine sense of the word – sort of love. That’s all that’s there in her world, and we need to express love as much as we need to receive it, and that’s what this is about.

In the opening verse, she sounds like she’s just woken up, and the first thing she sees is the rain. She’s not theatrically yawning or anything because she’s subtle, is Bonnie Dobson. In addition to sounding slightly – and realistically – bleary, she sounds like she’s quite pleased that the rain’s there. She says “Good Morning” to it, and she sounds like she’s talking to her partner, which she is because nobody else is there. She sounds quite pleased in a way. Fond, at least.

Second verse, and she tells the rain that she’s “heard all your sad old stories“, but again, more fondly than you’d expect. Like she doesn’t want to piss him off, but is only gently dissuading him from starting up again, in case he leaves her too.

The chorus is anaphoric in pretty much the same way that Turn, Turn, Turn is. The repetition of “It’s the time of the year when…” at the start of the first three lines isn’t a million miles away from “A time for...” in TTT.

To me, the effect of that is that Good Morning Rain‘s almost about Seasonal Affective Disorder from a time before it was given that label. Evidently she’s on her own when the weather turns bad, and that’s something that’s happened before, hence her familiar tone with the rain.

Those first three anaphoric lines of the chorus are sung with a degree of sadness that was absent from the verses, but the line after them? The words on the page only mention how she “needs a man to hold her“, but it’s the tone of her voice as she’s yearning for that, and she’s remembering when she wasn’t by herself – enjoying the memory of another human’s physical contact – but she’s left with only the unhuggable precipitation.

It’s profound in a way, even though it’s not about death or war or morality – it’s about being lonely and what that evokes in her, which isn’t just sadness because there’s a strange sort of comfort that familiarity brings with it too.

That’s clever writing, if you ask me. It’s odd, but we are odd, aren’t we? We like being scared by horror films, we like being upset by tragedies like Romeo and Juliet, and we aren’t necessarily looking for everything to make total sense and be wrapped up in a neat bow so we don’t have to think about it anymore. And Good Morning Rain does that.

Anyway, my old man’ll like her voice because she can sing, and she’s not just sounding happy or sad in this record, she’s singing like a real person, it’s not all sad, even though it is.

He’ll also like the instrumentation, which is a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, a bit of a scraper for percussion, plus some brass when the chorus comes in. Nothing too loud or wild, which he dislikes in general, even if I quite enjoy a bit of loud scuzziness.

It starts off with a busy, but fairly straightforward fingerpicking pattern – quite a common one – it’s not a million miles away from the similarly sodden song Early Morning Rain, especially as played by Peter, Paul & Mary.

Peter, Paul & Mary playing – live, mind! – Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain. I fucking love this. They mean it so very much, and yet there’s a distance in their eyes that might be intended as pining, but just looks a bit dead eyed to me. Even so, I really like it. I don’t know why I like it, and half of me resists it, but I can’t help it: it really appeals to me.

Early Morning Rain‘s a bit more complicated in a way, but it also just churns around endlessly. Good Morning Rain‘s mainly three chords – E flat, C minor and B flat, Early Morning Rain complicates matters by adding a D minor, but once you’ve got the fingerpicking pattern with Early, you’re there. With Good, it’s oddly fiddlier for me.

Anyway, both songs are in the same key, and I don’t know, but I’d imagine Peter, Paul and Bonnie all had a capo on the third fret and played the more folky friendly shapes of G, A minor and C. Oh, and B minor on Early. Was Bonnie influenced by Early Morning Rain? I think it’s fair to say she probably was, at least musically, and probably in terms of the weather too.

I have a soft spot for Peter, Paul and Mary, and I like them doing Early Morning Rain. I mean, they’re not really groovy, beautiful people. They’re more like Beatniks. They’re square as hell, of course, and their vocal delivery can be a bit creepy but, in the same way that Bonnie Dobson and I both enjoy the rain, I also perversely quite enjoy the creepiness of Peter, Paul & Mary.

Early Morning Rain isn’t an actual protest song. I mean, I wouldn’t call it anti-war, even though it is a bit, or could be interpreted as such, but you couldn’t make it stand up in court. Again, it’s about loneliness, but it’s not melancholic.

It’s a more manly take on the same thing, basically. Whereas the rain in Good Morning Rain is personified, the rain in Early Morning Rain is pathetic fallacy – it’s in sympathy with the narrator. Shit day – shit weather. A bit like when you first see Castle Dracula and all you get are grotesque gargoyles on a dilapidated tower, briefly illuminated by lightning. Except less ominous, and more “Will this monsoon never cease?” And the answer to that question, Bonnie, is “No. No, it won’t”.

The first line of Early Morning Rain lays it all out, really. In the early morning rain, with a dollar in (his) hand. It’s raining, and he can’t go anywhere where it’s not raining because he doesn’t have enough money. Other people can, and are – in aeroplanes – but he can’t. Not to say he didn’t have a nice time while he was here – getting pissed and getting off with hot chicks and shit – but he’s sick of that now and he’s decided he wants to go back home to his “loved ones“, whoever they are. Does he have a family?

Well, Gordon Lightfoot did when he wrote this, and he’s said it’s autobiographical. He’s a bit of a twat then, isn’t he? Going away, getting shitfaced and shagging around and then complaining about it because he can’t even stow away on a plane like he could if he were a hobo in the 1920s, or something.

Gordon Lightfoot wrote it, and I don’t know anything about him either, except I really like three or four songs he’s written. That, and I get the impression he’s pretty arsey. Maybe he isn’t. He sounds sensitive though, and that – as I said at the start – can be a strength and a weakness at the same time.

And, bearing in mind I also don’t know anything about Bonnie Dobson, really, I wonder if she liked Early Morning Rain, listened to it and decided she couldn’t sing it because it’s so entitled sounding and self-pitying with it. An unedifying glimpse into Gordon Lightfoot’s mind, perhaps. Anyway, I reckon she’ll have been playing around with that and, basically, used that as a launch pad for her take on the same situation.

And, as much as I perversely enjoy – especially Peter, Paul & Mary singing and playing – Early Morning Rain, it’s not as good as Good Morning Rain, because Early‘s from the perspective of what any number of YouTubers would describe as narcissistic, and Good‘s from the perspective of a nice human being. A well rounded one, capable of giving and receiving love.

Now, Good Morning Rain‘s a relatively new one on me – last couple of years – because I don’t listen to a lot of American – or Canadian – folk music, I suppose. But I’d known Early since I was a kid, and I’d always put that together with Leaving On A Jet Plane as being, sort of, the opposite perspective to the narrator of Early Morning Rain. A bit like Feargal Sharkey’s records, A Good Heart and You Little Thief, which were written by two estranged lovers about their relationship that just ended.

Peter, Paul & Mary – Leaving On A Jet Plane. I really like this, too. I feel exactly the same about it as I do with every other Peter, Paul & Mary record I’ve liked, except Puff The Magic Dragon, which just makes me want to cry. Fucking Jackie Paper. What an arsehole. Poor Puff. I don’t care if it is a metaphor about pot or not, I can’t get past the surface of that lyrical imagery. It’s just brutal. My friend Dave and I would dare each other to sit in the dark alone, listening to that and Bright Eyes, and then play Bubblegum pop for twenty minutes. Like a mental sauna and ice bath sort of thing. It was awful. We were about 24. You could see it if we were about 9, couldn’t you? I’m not blaming him, I think I came up with it, but he went along with it. In fairness, neither of us spent much time apart from Puff – metaphorically – ah! – at that point in time, so that might have had something to do with it.

I say opposite, but in a way, the only difference is that the narrator of Leaving On A Jet Plane – written by John Denver – has enough money to go away, but doesn’t want to. There’s a hefty chunk of lyrical content detailing all the shagging about he’s been up to, and how he’s sick of it now, and that they’ll “wear (their) wedding ring” on their return, implying not that they’ll get married on his return, but that they are married, but he takes his ring off when he’s off on tour so he can shag about.

It’s Mary who takes the lead on this, so I suppose there’s a degree of equality in terms of how women can be shagabouts too, so that’s nice, I suppose.

Anyway, despite my previous thoughts that Early Morning Rain and Leaving On A Jet Plane were, more or less, the same story told by either participant, it’s not really that at all, is it? It’s the same story, more or less. Go on tour, get pissed, shag about, get sick of it, get homesick. There’s nothing in it, is there?

Good Morning Rain, as far as I’m concerned at least, is the best of the three songs here, and it’s the best performance too because it’s got its heart in the right place, and the other two don’t, really. I mean, I suppose you could say that both LoAJP and EMR are both sort of about flawed narrators who both learn valuable lessons about what’s important – real love – after having found out what’s less important – shagging about and getting pissed – just left them feeling empty and alone in the rain.

GMR is the only one of these songs written by a woman, and it sounds like it too. Bonnie Dobson’s story of loneliness and companionship with the rain has depth and complicated feelings, whereas EMR and LoAJP are both shallow and self-pitying. They both have easy answers because both of those songs are about the same thing – I’ve learned a valuable lesson about myself and now I want to come back. I like them both – they’re good tunes with decent, if somewhat trite, lyrics.

Good Morning Rain isn’t like that. It’s still a good tune, but with better lyrics and, especially, a nuanced performance from a woman who knows a thing or two about being on her own and how to deal with that, which is more than you could say for either Gordon Lightfoot or John Denver. Bonnie Dobson’s learned how to cope with loneliness by talking to the rain – in the same way she’d talk to her boyfriend, if he were there.

It’s not that she sounds stronger or weaker than the others, it’s that she sounds stronger and weaker. It’s not that they’ve made poor choices and she hasn’t, because she has made poor choices in getting a bit overfamiliar with the rain, which isn’t going to help in the long run. It’s not that they’ve learned valuable lessons about themselves and she hasn’t because she has learned something: she’s learned that shit happens and sometimes you just need to get on with it. Or, you might as well because what’s the alternative?

Good Morning Rain‘s not half as famous as the other two songs I’ve written about here – but I do think it’s better in pretty much every way conceivable.

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